Recently in the news with a new purpose built museum in Portsmouth, England; the Mary Rose is an amazing time capsule of its time.<
Built for King Henry VIII between 1509-1511 she sunk during a battle with French in 1545. King Henry VIII watched his ship sink in Portsmouth Harbour in 14m of water from Southsea Castle. Few of the 400+ sailers and soldiers survived due to heavy nets hung over the structure to prevent boarding by the enemy.
In 1965 – 1971 a search was made using sonar and side scan equipment to relocate the Mary Rose. From the 1970’s excavations determined the extent of the wreckage and plans were made for the recovery of the hull. On the 11th October 1982 the largest section of hull was lifted. The last 30 years of conservation has involved the use of Polyethylene Glycol (PEG) to stabilise the waterlogged hull, replacing the water content and finally allowing display in a temperature controlled environment.
I visited the Historic Shipyards in 1998 as part of a Nautical Archaelogical course I was attending in Portsmouth. I was lucky that 2 of our instructors had worked on the Mary Rose project and were able to share many of their stories with us, as anecdotes in class or as we toured the exhibits. For me it was amazing to experience the history in front of me. King Henry VIII seemed more like a character than an historical figure yet I stood at the same site he stood watching the Mary Rose sink. I saw longbows 2m long when the average height was only 1.7m.
Historians can tell us from the items collected what the men ate, what they wore, what they did for work and for fun in their spare time.
Dice, a backgammon set, books and musical instruments were all discovered aboard the ship. Clothing made from leather, silk and wool all survived 500 years buried in the silt.